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Silencing the Nakba with Eurovision

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While Israel’s Eurovision celebrations are in full gear towards the finals of the song contest on Saturday, a more solemn event passed with rather little notice from most Jewish Israelis. Yesterday, May 15th, was Nakba Day.

The Israeli week of commemoration — starting with Holocaust Day, continuing with Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, and culminating in the ecstasy of Independence Day — has already passed. But Nakba Day is marked on the Latin calendar, instead of the lunar calendar like Israeli holidays, and so this year it fell among the Eurovision celebration which has come to Israel following Netta Barzilai’s victory in the contest last year with her song “Toy”.

Thus, yesterday, at the Entin Square of the Tel Aviv campus, a ceremony was held to commemorate the Nakba, marking the dispossession and exile of most of the Palestinians from the area which became Israel, the Jewish state. Subsequent ethnic cleansings, like the massive one in 1967 and other smaller campaigns, are part of what is known as the “ongoing Nakba”. This ceremony has been a recurring event since 2012. Ironically, the first, massively-attended event, came just after the passing of the “Nakba law” in 2011, a law which prohibits public institutions from commemorating the Nakba, entailing a penalty of state-fund withdrawal.

The event in 2012 caused massive public and governmental uproar, where also Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar urged the University to cancel it. In response to these pressures, the University took measures to distance itself from the event, without forbidding it: It required the organisers to pay for security, to avoid using loudspeakers, and has demanded that the students change the name of the event from “ceremony” to “protest” or “assembly”. One of the main organisers, Noa Levy, commented on the latter:

[A]s if the Zionists have a monopoly on what can be considered a commemoration ceremony. We’re still trying to fight this.

At the same square, at the same time, a supposed “counter-demonstration” was taking place. The crowd here was mainly represented by the fascist Im Tirtzu group, which incites against human rights activists, framing them as “foreign agents”. The term “fascist” was also noted by a Jerusalem court judge as a legitimate title to describe the group. And since 2012, the story has basically repeated itself, albeit with lesser crowds and attention: a Nakba ceremony, with a parallel demonstration by Im Tirtzu. Entin Square is adjacent to Tel Aviv University and considered public grounds, but the University does provide security for the space even if it is not responsible for content of events that take place there as such.

Eitan Bronstein Apparicio, who was with the Israeli organization Zochrot in 2012 (and now heads De-colonizer), tells me that the event in 2012 was, by far the biggest Nakba commemoration in Israeli history in what he calls “Jewish public space”. That is to say, although there are “return marches” going to different destroyed villages each year, this event was taking place smack in the midst of Jewish Tel Aviv. And most do not think of ‘liberal’ Tel Aviv as a symbol of Nakba dispossession – despite the fact that it is situated upon 8 destroyed villages. Tel Aviv University campus itself is placed on top of what used to be a-Sheikh Muwannis. Few Jewish Israelis think about it today.

Yesterday, the Im Tirtzu fascists had a novel idea – to play last year’s Israeli Eurovision winner song “Toy” on loudspeakers – as the ceremony was holding a minute of silence for the Nakba victims.

Noa Levy wrote a Facebook status about this one (Hebrew):

At the Nakba Day ceremony, today at the university, “Im Tirtzu” played from across in full volume Netta Barzilai’s TOY during the minute of silence. This returned me in a boom to these days last year – when I drove with a colleague to a demonstration against the moving of the USA embassy to Jerusalem, where on the way there began to come reports about what was happening in Gaza: 60 protesters were killed in a day by IDF fire. As the figures kept rising, our spirits falling, we reached the demonstration – which was legal and approved, which was then nonetheless dispersed with gross violence by the Border Police. In the evening we heard, that despite the horrific scenes from the shooting in Gaza, there are huge celebrations in Tel Aviv due to the winning of the Eurovision. And today, a year later, protesters are still killed in Gaza once every few weeks, there are bombings every few months, and between one round of violence and the next, the siege continues to exact a heavy price from all the civilians in the strip – whose future, life and health are gone. As a first response – the excellent clip by Adi Granot”.

That is a great clip, a bitter parody on “Toy”, which I had reported about at the time, noting also an excellent similar Dutch parody, which was predictably attacked as “anti-Semitic”. And Noa Levy has an admirable sense of justice and empathy, which leads her to activism that is especially meant to affect the Israeli mind. Notice how she describes her idea of doing a ceremony modelled on other Israeli commemoration ceremonies:

“That’s how I got the idea for an “Israeli” ceremony. It was clear to me that Israelis understand very well the emotional aspect of mourning, of national trauma, of a painful history that determines the future. Not for naught is Israel the world champion in monuments per kilometer and in memorial ceremonies in public schools.  Israelis understand the transformation of personal mourning into a state-sponsored public activity; it’s familiar to them, visible.  The idea of using the model of “Yizkor” [the traditional memorial text], a minute of silence, in a ceremony directly referencing the Israel model arose already in that first meeting.  It was clear to us that the discussion and argument about a ceremony like that would be completely different.  It wouldn’t be a ceremony presenting a structured political or national narrative, which would awaken the instinctive antagonism of the average Israeli, but one recounting a disaster and suffering in an emotional, symbolic manner that anyone could identify with.  I also knew that the media would be very interested – as opposed to a discussion, a tour or a political lecture.  A formal ceremony is very photogenic, creates headlines by virtue of its association with national catastrophes of the Jewish people and is a way to bring the Nakba into the Israeli public space.”

(See the full interview of Noa Levy with Eitan Bronstein Apparicio in Zochrot).

And this is the moral astuteness and honor that the Im Tirtzu rabble seek to destroy. They have shared a coverage of the event from their side on Facebook, with constant narration. They also speak on a loudspeaker in Arabic, saying things like:

You speak of grief on our Independence Day. The only grief is that you’re still here still studying at Tel Aviv University”…”You, who are studying at Israeli universities are nothing but hypocrites, you have no morals nor religion, you have no future, we, Israelis, hold our heads high forever and ever, we wish you all a happy Nakba day – yes, happy Nakba day…

To understand the depravity, one can look at Im Tirtzu’s event poster, as they shared on Facebook, which I will translate some of. Its title is “Mesinakba” – that, is, “Nakba party”, and it also says “Nakba bullshit”. “2 hours of wild sensation , 71 years of victory, a CONQUERING lunch party” (“conquering” is a parody on the occupation, which the Hebrew term for the occupation is actually “conquering”). It says “free entry for Zionists from age 18 by showing a blue [Israeli] ID card”, and the cartoon features a Palestinian with a kaffiyeh and a green band (alluding to Hamas), pulling down his one eye in a motion which symbolizes “seriously??”.

This is what these hooligans consider “tongue in cheek”, “chutzpah”, which is supposedly harmless. But they are inciting to racist violence, often against specific people. And the ideology behind their Nakba denial is actually huge, it’s national. Israel has been denying the Nakba since its inception, and the aforementioned Nakba law is merely one representation of an overwhelming societal denial. A reality check on this is useful – imagine a Holocaust or Memorial Day ceremony somewhere in Israel, where in that minute of silence, Palestinians come and blast it with some music which represents them, and then  continue incessantly to shout obscenities at against Jews, saying they don’t belong there, there’s no Holocaust, etc. It’s unthinkable. They would be stopped by the police, probably violently so, taken in for interrogation, probably jailed for disrupting public order or maybe support for terrorism. I mean, it was enough for poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, to write “Resist them”, and bang, years in house arrest and months in prison. But no – Im Tirtzu can do this, and this is a supposedly “even-handed” approach by the university and the police.

H/t Tali Shapira, Danielle Alma Ravitzki, Rawan Natsheh, Tamara Lombardo, Reham Darwish, Tom Pessah

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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12 Responses

  1. eljay on May 16, 2019, 2:34 pm

    Zionists are truly hateful and immoral people. Their deliberately and unapologetically colonialist, (war) criminal and religion-supremacist construct is a realization of – and a reflection of – their hatefulness and immorality.

    • Misterioso on May 17, 2019, 10:12 am

      @eljay, et al

      Regarding the pro-Zionist anti-Palestinian Nakba banner shown in the photo above that states “Israel will not mourn your failure to massacre us in 1948,” it is timely to remember what really happened:

      What took place in Palestine between late 1947 and early 1949 was described by eye-witness Nathan Chofshi, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, who arrived in Palestine in 1908 in the same group as Polish born David Ben-Gurion, (real name, David Gruen): “…we old Jewish settlers in Palestine who witnessed the flight know how and in what manner we, Jews, forced the Arabs to leave cities and villages…some of them were driven out by force of arms; others were made to leave by deceit, lying and false promises. It is enough to cite the cities of Jaffa, Lydda, Ramle, Beersheba, Acre from among numberless others.” (Jewish Newsletter, New York, February 9, 1959)

      Chofshi was deeply ashamed of what his fellow Jews did to the Palestinians: “We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and of trying to undo some of the evil we committed…we justify our terrible acts and even attempt to glorify them.” (ibid, p. 803)

      In 2004, when asked by Ha’aretz journalist, Ari Shavit, what new information his just completed revised version of The Birth of the Palestinian Problem 1947-1949 would provide, Israeli historian Benny Morris replied: “It is based on many documents that were not available to me when I wrote the original book, most of them from the Israel Defense Forces Archives. What the new material shows is that there were far more Israeli acts of massacre than I had previously thought. To my surprise, there were also many cases of rape. In the months of April-May 1948, units of the Haganah were given operational orders that stated explicitly that they were to uproot the villagers, expel them and destroy the villages themselves.” (Ha’aretz, January 9, 2004)

      To quote John H. Davis, who served as Commission General of UNRWA at the time: “An exhaustive examination of the minutes, resolutions, and press releases of the Arab League, of the files of leading Arabic newspapers, of day-to-day monitoring of broadcasts from Arab capitals and secret Arab radio stations, failed to reveal a single reference, direct or indirect, to an order given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave. All the evidence is to the contrary; that the Arab authorities continuously exhorted the Palestinian Arabs not to leave the country…. Panic and bewilderment played decisive parts in the flight. But the extent to which the refugees were savagely driven out by the Israelis as part of a deliberate master-plan has been insufficiently recognized.” (John H. Davis, The Evasive Peace, London: Murray, 1968)

      As determined by Walter Walter Eytan, then Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, 800,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and expelled from their ancestral homeland between late 1947 and early 1949.

      BTW: As a consequence of the war Israel launched on 5 June, 1967, a further about 250,000 were driven out as Israel seized and has since illegally/brutally occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip (still occupied by Israel in violation of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, i.e., “collective punishment”) as well as Syria’s Golan Heights and Lebanon’s Shebba Farms/Kfarshuba Hills.

  2. just on May 16, 2019, 3:50 pm

    Thank you for this much- needed insight and exposure into the hypocrisy and grotesquerie that is Israel all the time~ now exacerbated by Eurovision this year, Jonathan.

    Gideon Levy also wrote something important :

    “A Trip Advisor to the Real Israel

    So you’ve decided to come, despite Roger Waters and everything. Welcome to Israel. You’re here and everything is wonderful: sunshine, alcohol, rock and roll, nice people, a terrific production, a big party. I suggest you also dedicate one day to reality. See the Israel that the video postcards shown before each song will never show you – the Israel that’s hidden from view, the dark side of the moon on which you’re now dancing.

    It’s immoral to ignore it. Dare to dream? Dream on if you like, but sometimes the party is over. It’s lights out. Forget TripAdvisor for the moment, let me be your personal trip advisor for another type of visit.

    When you leave Expo Tel Aviv, walk west for a few minutes. You’ll see a huge complex of buildings. This is a security compound, and the people who work there are responsible for many of the crimes and injustices you’ll see throughout the day. From here, for example, they dispatched the agents who instructed female soldiers to conduct a rectal and vaginal search of a Palestinian woman in her home.

    This is the headquarters for the abuse of the Palestinian people in the name of security. In the parking lot you’ll see a fence, and behind it some abandoned graves. This is the cemetery of the Palestinian village that stood there before 1948. Israel wiped off the face of the earth more than 400 such towns and villages, kindly leaving just the graves. You can meet the descendants of the inhabitants, children of refugees who either fled or were expelled, when Eurovision is held in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan sometime. Oops, they’re not in Europe, but then again neither is Israel. Or you can meet them later on in our tour, in the refugee camps.

    Southward to Gaza. An hour’s drive from the Expo and you’re at the Erez crossing, the entry to the world’s largest cage. Want to see what human experiments look like? What happens to people when you coop them up for 13 years and bomb them every now and then? Only the journalists among you, with a pass from the Government Press Office – yes there is such a thing in the only democracy in the Middle East – may enter. The rest of you are barred from entering this prison.

    It will be pretty deserted at Erez. The entry gate for the 2.5 million prisoners is always deserted. Except for a few foreign journalists, merchants and terminally ill patients, some of whom are blackmailed by the Shin Bet security service to obtain medical care, no one goes in and out. Think about a city of 2.5 million back where you come from and about the roads that go to and from it, and imagine that only a few dozen people are authorized to drive on them each day.

    You’ve never seen anything like it. Just one hour from the exuberant Expo. It’s a place the United Nations says won’t be fit for human habitation by next year. The year 2020 will be the end for life in Gaza and no one cares. … On Wednesday tens of thousands massed by the fence to mark Nakba Day, and soldiers fired at them.

    From here we’ll head east to the West Bank. Occupied territory. No country on earth recognizes the occupation. Two peoples live here – Jewish settlers, who have invaded in the last few decades and possess all the rights and resources, and the Palestinian natives who have been living here for centuries and are devoid of rights. Most of their land has already been stolen, plundered by the settlements, sometimes by force, and always under the state’s sponsorship. This is apartheid. This is what it looks like. This is how it behaves.

    Then South Mount Hebron, where Israel is even dispossessing the cave dwellers. Let’s visit the H2 section of Hebron. A ghost town. Thousands of the Palestinians who lived here have fled because of the settlers. There are roads there for Jews only, imagine that. To the north and south are the Al-Fawwar, Al-Arroub and Deheisheh refugee camps. Third World sights. During Passover, the residents were kept out by checkpoints and armed troops so the Jews could celebrate their holiday. You can see similar sights throughout the West Bank, what’s left of the Palestinians’ land.

    And here we are back at the Eurovision compound where it’s all partying and fun. Let’s raise a toast to Israel, the fantastic host country.”

    P.S. Cannot abide that Netta song or her ‘moves’. For the “Im Tirtzu fascists” to desecrate the Nakba and the Palestinian people in this way is not that shocking, is it?

    “As a first response – the excellent clip by Adi Granot”” It is an excellent response. Too bad that it was necessary, eh?

  3. Marnie on May 16, 2019, 11:50 pm

    I can’t understand why anyone in their right mind would participate in this nonsense – eurovision in the middle east and not europe? Besides that, I’m trying to imagine the same type of international event being held within an hours drive of Auschwitz or Buchenwald. This is just unreal. Most israelis are zionists and nothing else. There is no holiness and no love of God or Creation, only Darwinists and nazi wannabees with meaningless ‘traditions’ that are supposed to give the appearance the practitioners are human beings and not monsters. FAIL.

    • Mooser on May 17, 2019, 11:20 am

      “Most israelis are zionists and nothing else.”

      It’s a full-time job. And many otherwise-free evenings must be devoted to the project, too.

    • Tuyzentfloot on May 17, 2019, 2:48 pm

      Most israelis are zionists and nothing else.
      I thought a lot of Israelis would want to be apolitical about the Palestinians. “just make the problem go away and keep me out of it. I’ll believe anything you claim too, if it helps.”

  4. Sibiriak on May 17, 2019, 12:19 am

    Jonathan Ofir: …the ideology behind their Nakba denial is actually huge, it’s national. Israel has been denying the Nakba since its inception, and the aforementioned Nakba law is merely one representation of an overwhelming societal denial.

    But there’s always the realistic hope that , no matter how insanely unlikely it is, Israel Jews will make a “leap of faith” en masse, effectively abandon Zionism, and willingly embrace coexistence with Arab Palestinians on the basis of individual freedom and full equality.

    • Jonathan Ofir on May 17, 2019, 4:38 pm

      It would seem you are being ironic, Sibiriak- am I right?
      It is a sad day, when freedom and equality are being used as tools of sarcasm. I think it’s serious.

      • echinococcus on May 17, 2019, 7:51 pm


        Never mind the sad-day thing. It’s much more serious to ignore reality and fall for hope-peddlers. Freedom and equality, as you say, are not being made fun of; the butt of the joke are those of us who fall for either “two-state” or “one-brotherly-state” nostrums.

      • Sibiriak on May 17, 2019, 10:16 pm

        Irony, sarcasm, satire– they can be very serious.

        The threat of Jewish Israeli racism and “overwhelming denial” to the possibility freedom and equality in a single state is overwhelmingly serious.

  5. Sibiriak on May 18, 2019, 10:40 pm

    ‘Hate will prevail’: Icelandic BDSM band put Eurovision and Israel in a bind

    Leather-clad group Hatari say this year’s contest, in which they will represent Iceland, is ‘built on a lie’

    […]On stage, the group, whose name means “Hater”, present a fascist-inspired dystopia of blood-splattered whippings. In person, they are softly spoken and occasionally cheerfully optimistic.

    They have slammed Eurovision in Israel – which is the subject of boycott calls over the country’s treatment of Palestinians – as being “built on a lie”, calling it propaganda and a whitewash, yet they have agreed to represent their country in Tel Aviv this week, expressing genuine love for the competition’s message of unity and diversity.

    * * *
    Hatari have emerged as the most controversial act this year, putting politics front of stage in a contest that has been at pains stay apolitical, to the point of adding censorship of lyrics and speeches into its rules.

    With their deadpan humour, Hatari challenged the country’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to a traditional Icelandic trouser-grip wrestling match the day after the Eurovision finale, to be adjudicated by a “neutral UN-sponsored referee”.

    * * *

    […]Hatari have emerged as the most controversial act this year, putting politics front of stage in a contest that has been at pains stay apolitical, to the point of adding censorship of lyrics and speeches into its rules.

    With their deadpan humour, Hatari challenged the country’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, to a traditional Icelandic trouser-grip wrestling match the day after the Eurovision finale, to be adjudicated by a “neutral UN-sponsored referee”.

    * * *

    To push back, Hatari’s first point of call after landing was to drive to the largest city in the occupied West Bank. More than 200,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, but the presence of ultranationalist Israeli settlers around the main souk has in effect shut down local life in its centre as army checkpoints cut off the area.

    “It’s so absurd to be in this contest … and everyone is super polite; it’s all about the music and everybody loves each other,” says Tryggvi Haraldsson at his hotel in Tel Aviv. “And to be in that bubble a day after witnessing apartheid in action just an hour’s drive away is the contradiction that we want to be aware of.”

    Yet Hatari have found themselves under pressure from Palestinians, too, in particular the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which wants not only businesses to pull support for the competition, but artists to pull out of it too, even ones who criticise Israel’s policies.

    One of the movement’s founders said it appreciated gestures of solidarity but Hatari was “fig-leafing” by playing in Eurovision.

    Tryggvi Haraldsson says he supports any non-violent movement that campaigns for Palestinian rights, including BDS, “even though, obviously and paradoxically, our approach is very different”. Otherwise, he says, “an opportunity for a critical discussion is wasted”, as Iceland was always going to send a group.

    The big question is whether Hatari will use the Eurovision stage to protest in front of millions of viewers worldwide in the semi-finals on Tuesday.

    5. You couldn’t escape the politics

    The European Broadcasting Union tries to keep the event politically neutral, and Eurovision has had controversial hosts before, but with calls to boycott this year’s event from the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement the political aspect of Israel as host was difficult to escape – especially on social media. Eurovision nights are often a huge outpouring of joy and bonhomie on Twitter, but this year the laughs and jokes were punctuated with reminders of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    And while organisers must have feared bigger protests and demonstrations in the arena itself, they could not prevent Iceland’s entry Hatari waving Palestinian scarves as they were awarded their public vote points.

  6. Mooser on May 20, 2019, 12:28 pm

    And here’s another view of Eurovision:


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